Made for Medicine
Wednesday, May 24, 2023
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Every community needs access to health care providers and proper medical care.
However, a need exists for more rural health care workers, said Dylan Johnston, a physician assistant student at the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences.
OSU’s program exists to train future PAs for careers serving on health care teams with physicians and other medical personnel in rural parts of the state, he said.
Johnston was born in West Virginia and spent most of his childhood in northeast Georgia. He then moved with his family to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he attended Bixby High School.
Throughout his childhood, Johnston was involved in 4-H and FFA, which sparked his interests in science and medicine.
“I showed dairy cattle in middle school,” Johnston said. “Those early interactions taking care of animals and watching our veterinarian are initially what drew me to a career in medicine.”
In 2010, Johnston began his college career at OSU, majoring in animal science with the intent of attending veterinary school. In the final year of his bachelor’s degree, Johnston applied to the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine and was disappointed to not receive admission, he said.
“I thought to myself, ‘What am I going to do from here?’” Johnston said. “At the time, I was dating my now wife, and we were getting fairly serious. I had to make a decision to chase my vet school dream or change career paths.”
Ultimately, Johnston pursued a master’s degree in agricultural economics and proposed to his college sweetheart, Ashton Mese.
“Dylan is the greatest person I know,” said Ashton Mese Johnston, Dylan’s wife of seven years. “He was a fantastic college boyfriend who turned into a fantastic husband.”
As newlyweds, the pair took a leap of faith to pack their things and move to Washington, D.C., in 2016, she said.
“We got married on a Saturday in Oklahoma City, and on Sunday, we started driving to Washington,” Dylan Johnston said.
Dylan Johnston began working for the Farm Credit Administration while Ashton Johnston was a policy staffer for the House Agriculture Committee at the U.S. Capitol. The couple enjoyed living and working in the city, he said. However, after living in Washington for less than one year, the couple received devastating news, he added.
“I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer,” Ashton Johnston said. “It was pretty far along, and treatment was going to take surgery and chemotherapy.”
Despite the news, the couple felt Washington was where they were called to be, Ashton Johnston said. They continued to live in Washington while she sought medical treatment with her husband by her side every step of the way, she added.
“Dylan really shined during that time, and it proved so much to me,” Ashton Johnston said. “He was made to work in medicine. I always joke with him that I was his first patient.”
When doctors asked questions about Ashton Johnston’s health, her husband had all of the answers, she said. He took note of all her medications, side effects and symptoms, she said, but she had not noticed until he unveiled a spreadsheet at a doctor’s appointment.
“He is so good at everything medical,” Ashton Johnston said. “We look back at those three years spent in D.C. as a treasure. We got incredible medical care, and it relit a fire in Dylan.”
In 2018, Ashton Johnston received “no evidence of disease” results. The couple celebrated the next year with normalcy as they continued their careers until they decided to move back to Oklahoma to be closer to family, he said. Then in 2020, COVID-19 affected Ashton Johnston’s parents, who died within weeks of each other, she said.
“Dylan was so helpful through all the health care decisions needing to be made,” Ashton Johnston said. “It was a very difficult and heartbreaking way for him to realize the difference he could be making if he were to work in medicine.”
Dylan Johnston decided to leave his finance career with Rabo AgriFinance in 2021 and began working for a medical clinic in Cashion, Oklahoma, to gain experience before applying to OSU’s physician assistant program in Tulsa, he said.
“My experience at the Cashion Community Clinic solidified my passion for a career in rural health care,” he said.
Dylan Johnston anticipated the process would take a few years to build a competitive application given his unique background, he said.
“Dylan was selected for an interview the very first time he applied,” Ashton Johnston said. “He did very well in the interview. One of the interviewers said it was the best interview she had in 12 years.”
Everyone knew he was made for this, Ashton Johnston said.
“I interviewed Dylan,” said Jennifer Stauffer, clinical assistant professor and director of clinical education. “I was very impressed and captivated by his unique journey to becoming a PA.”
Stauffer now serves as Dylan Johnston’s faculty adviser and the adviser for the Student PAs in Rural Communities club.
The SPARC club is the first PA-led club on campus, he added.
Dylan Johnston is one of the founding members of the SPARC club and serves as the treasurer. When founding the club, the goal was to form a community of PAs who are passionate about rural health care, he said.
“Dylan is very passionate about rural medicine,” Stauffer said. “He contributes a lot to our program because he helps us meet our mission, which is to help rural Oklahoma.”
Dylan Johnston’s passions for rural health care and science are easily seen through his academics, she added.
“I would describe Dylan as professional and humble,” said Rebecca Stephen, clinical assistant professor and director of admissions. “He has worked really hard for his success, but you would not necessarily know because it looks like it comes so easy to him.”
Dylan Johnston’s hard work and professionalism led him to serve as class president, Stephen said. He entered the program with goals, she added, and every day he is accomplishing them.
In August 2023, the class will enter clinical rotation training for 15 months. Dylan Johnston will graduate from the program in 2024 with a Master of Science degree in physician assistant studies.
“One thing that drew me to the OSU program was the focus on rural health,” Dylan Johnston said. “More than half of our rotations are in rural areas. The locations go as far northwest as Beaver all the way down to Durant. We really cover the whole state.”
The amount of rural exposure is unique to the OSU program, he added. After graduation, Dylan Johnston plans to work in emergency medicine at a small hospital in rural Oklahoma, he said.
The 2021-accredited PA program at the OSU Center for Health Sciences helps students earn their degrees while increasing medical access to underserved areas of Oklahoma.
“I want rural students to understand this is a career path that will allow them to serve their communities back home,” Dylan Johnston said. “Ashton and I are thankful our experiences opened this door for me to serve in health care, and I hope others see they can, too.”
Want to Learn More?
The new physician assistant program at the OSU Center for Health Sciences aims to support and advocate for rural health care in Oklahoma.
The 28-month program includes the following:
13 months of training in the classroom with in-class lectures and hands-on experiences and 15 months of clinical rotations throughout the state.
At the end of the program, students earn a Master of Science in physician assistant studies.
For more information visit medicine.okstate.edu.
Source: OSU Center for Health Sciences
Story By: Savanna Souza | Cowboy Journal